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      Implementing ideal health policy in a fragile health system: the example of expanding the use of malaria rapid diagnostic tests in mainland Tanzania


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          Malaria confirmation before treatment provides an opportunity for improving the quality of malaria case management in endemic regions. However, increased coverage of this strategy is facing many organizational, logistical and technical challenges that threaten its success. Introducing an intervention with system-wide effect, such as the use of malaria rapid diagnostic tests in areas where malaria is still a public health problem, should be accompanied by system strengthening measures to better attain the goal of improving quality of care.

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          Rapid diagnostic tests compared with malaria microscopy for guiding outpatient treatment of febrile illness in Tanzania: randomised trial.

          To compare rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) for malaria with routine microscopy in guiding treatment decisions for febrile patients. Randomised trial. Outpatient departments in northeast Tanzania at varying levels of malaria transmission. 2416 patients for whom a malaria test was requested. Staff received training on rapid diagnostic tests; patients sent for malaria tests were randomised to rapid diagnostic test or routine microscopy Proportion of patients with a negative test prescribed an antimalarial drug. Of 7589 outpatient consultations, 2425 (32%) had a malaria test requested. Of 1204 patients randomised to microscopy, 1030 (86%) tested negative for malaria; 523 (51%) of these were treated with an antimalarial drug. Of 1193 patients randomised to rapid diagnostic test, 1005 (84%) tested negative; 540 (54%) of these were treated for malaria (odds ratio 1.13, 95% confidence interval 0.95 to 1.34; P=0.18). Children aged under 5 with negative rapid diagnostic tests were more likely to be prescribed an antimalarial drug than were those with negative slides (P=0.003). Patients with a negative test by any method were more likely to be prescribed an antibiotic (odds ratio 6.42, 4.72 to 8.75; P<0.001). More than 90% of prescriptions for antimalarial drugs in low-moderate transmission settings were for patients for whom a test requested by a clinician was negative for malaria. Although many cases of malaria are missed outside the formal sector, within it malaria is massively over-diagnosed. This threatens the sustainability of deployment of artemisinin combination treatment, and treatable bacterial diseases are likely to be missed. Use of rapid diagnostic tests, with basic training for clinical staff, did not in itself lead to any reduction in over-treatment for malaria. Interventions to improve clinicians' management of febrile illness are essential but will not be easy. Clinical trials NCT00146796 [ClinicalTrials.gov].
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            Malaria misdiagnosis: effects on the poor and vulnerable.

            Effective and affordable treatment is recommended for all cases of malaria within 24 h of the onset of illness. Most cases of "malaria" (ie, fever) are self-diagnosed and most treatments, and deaths, occur at home. The most ethical and cost-effective policy is to ensure that newer drug combinations are only used for true cases of malaria. Although it is cost effective to improve the accuracy of malaria diagnosis, simple, accurate, and inexpensive methods are not widely available, particularly in poor communities where they are most needed. In a recent study in Uganda, Karin Kallander and colleagues emphasise the difficulty in making a presumptive diagnosis of malaria, and highlight the urgent need for improved diagnostic tools that can be used at community and primary-care level, especially in poorer populations (Acta Trop 2004; 90: 211-14). WHERE NEXT? Health systems need strengthening at referral and community level, so that rapid accurate diagnosis and effective treatment is available for those who are least able to withstand the consequences of illness. Indirect evidence strongly suggests that misdiagnosis of malaria contributes to a vicious cycle of increasing ill-health and deepening poverty. Much better direct evidence is needed about why and how misdiagnosis affects the poor and vulnerable.
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              Improving community health worker use of malaria rapid diagnostic tests in Zambia: package instructions, job aid and job aid-plus-training

              Background Introduction of artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) has boosted interest in parasite-based malaria diagnosis, leading to increased use of rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs), particularly in rural settings where microscopy is limited. With donor support, national malaria control programmes are now procuring large quantities of RDTs. The scarcity of health facilities and trained personnel in many sub-Saharan African countries means that limiting RDT use to such facilities would exclude a significant proportion of febrile cases. RDT use by volunteer community health workers (CHWs) is one alternative, but most sub-Saharan African countries prohibit CHWs from handling blood, and little is known about CHW ability to use RDTs safely and effectively. This Zambia-based study was designed to determine: (i) whether Zambian CHWs could prepare and interpret RDTs accurately and safely using manufacturer's instructions alone; (ii) whether simple, mostly pictorial instructions (a "job aid") could raise performance to adequate levels; and (iii) whether a brief training programme would produce further improvement. Methods The job aid and training programme were based on formative research with 32 CHWs in Luangwa District. The study team then recruited three groups of CHWs in Chongwe and Chibombo districts. All had experience treating malaria based on clinical diagnosis, but only six had prior RDT experience. Trained observers used structured observation checklists to score each participant's preparation of three RDTs. Each also read 10 photographs showing different test results. The first group (n = 32) was guided only by manufacturer's instructions. The second (n = 21) used only the job aid. The last (n = 26) used the job aid after receiving a three-hour training. Results Mean scores, adjusted for education, age, gender and experience, were 57% of 16 RDT steps correctly completed for group 1, 80% for group 2, and 92% for group 3. Mean percentage of test results interpreted correctly were 54% (group 1), 80% (group 2), and 93% (group 3). All differences were statistically significant (p < 0.05). Conclusion Manufacturer's instructions like those provided with the RDTs used in this study are insufficient to ensure safe and accurate use by CHWs. However, well-designed instructions plus training can ensure high performance. More study is underway to determine how well this performance holds up over time.

                Author and article information

                Malar J
                Malaria Journal
                BioMed Central
                28 October 2011
                : 10
                : 322
                [1 ]Health Systems Group, Ifakara Health Institute, Kiko Avenue- Mikocheni, PO Box 78373, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
                [2 ]Emerging Voices programme (2010), Institute of Tropical Medicine, Nationalestraat 155, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium
                [3 ]Christian Sickness Fund, Chaussée de Haecht 579, BP 40, B-1031 Brussels, Belgium
                [4 ]Clinical Sciences Department, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Nationalestraat 155, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium
                Copyright ©2011 Masanja et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                : 28 June 2011
                : 28 October 2011

                Infectious disease & Microbiology
                tanzania,malaria rapid diagnostic tests,health systems
                Infectious disease & Microbiology
                tanzania, malaria rapid diagnostic tests, health systems


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